High school marching band students from Indiana visited the Russian embassy on Tuesday
Russian Ambassador to US Sergey Kislyak was expected to attend, but did not
US-Russia relations are facing considerable scrutiny during President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, filled with scandal over communications between key Trump aides and Russian officials and allegations of Moscow meddling in the 2016 election.
But all of that was a world away Tuesday evening at the Russian embassy in Washington, as high school students from middle America participated in a rich cultural exchange.
About 200 high school students from the Homestead Spartan Alliance Marching Band, hailing from Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, were in the audience for musical performances from American, Russian and Ukrainian artists as part of the Embassy Series, a recurring concert program that strives to unite people “through musical diplomacy.”
Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, who himself is embroiled in controversy with the Trump administration due to his communications with once-national security adviser Michael Flynn and meetings with now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was expected to be in attendance and make remarks.
Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials. Russian officials dispute this characterization.
But on Tuesday, he was unexpectedly absent.
“Unfortunately, he is not able to join us,” cultural attaché of the embassy of the Russian Federation Natalia Dementieva told attendees in a room with 18 chandeliers, gold curtains and mosaic artwork of St. Petersburg, relaying the ambassador’s support for the Embassy Series.
The embassy did not respond to CNN’s inquiry regarding the reason for Kislyak’s absence.
The students, who are on day four of their spring break visit to the nation’s capital, were mostly unfazed by the political climate. They mingled amongst themselves and their parent chaperones, drank juice and Coca-Cola products, and snapped photos on their cellphones in an embassy foyer during a pre-concert reception.